Russian and Eurasian Politics

The National Republics as Administrative Resource in Russia’s Elections

by Gordon M. Hahn

[Thus article was originally published for ROPV in December 2011 as “The National Republics as Administrative Resource in Russia’s Elections,” Russia – Other Points of View, 12 December 2011, http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/2011/12/the-national-republics-as-administrative-resource-in-russias-elections-.html. It discusses key, institutionalized aspect of what I characterized 14 years ago as Putin’s soft “stealth authoritarianism.”]

My previous article for ROPV (“The Thaw at the Polls: Tandem’s Liberalization Policy Rocks the Vote”) indicated that the recent Duma election was freer and fairer than previous Putin-era elections, and the loss of some 77 seats (16 percent of the total) by the United Russia (YeR) party of President Dmitrii Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin testifies to this. I also emphasized the likelihood that the voting process and vote counting appeared to be cleaner, while the pre-election campaign remains the locus of continuing unfairness, including the use of administrative resources such as keeping certain candidates or parties off the ballot and thus tilting the playing field in the favor of Kremlin candidates like those from the YeR.  One of several arguments I offered was the correspondence between exit and pre-election opinion polls, on the one hand, and the official final election results, on the other hand.  Afterward, it occurred to me that that there may have been a similar correspondence in previous elections, so I decided to dig back into the archives and check polling and voting patterns.  Here is what I found.

I could not track down any exit polls for the 2003 and 1999 votes, which were essentially Putin-era affairs.  However, VTsIOM’s (the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion) 2007 Duma exit polls were available and are presented in juxtaposition to the 2011 exit polls and both the 2007 and 2011 pre-election polling and final election results in the Table below.

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Comparing Final Pre-Election Opinion and Exit Polls with Election Results (figure in %)

Polling Agency                       YeR                 KPRF              LDPR              SR           Other

2011

VTsIOM Pre-Election Poll     54                       17                 12                   10              7

VTsIOM Exit Poll                  48.5                 19.8                 11.42               12.8          7.5

Election Results                     49.32               19.19               11.67               13.24        6.58                

2007

VTsIOM Pre-Election Poll     62.8                 11.2                 8.7                   7.6            9.7

VTsIOM Exit Poll                  61.0                 11.5                 8.8                   8.4          10.3

Election Results                     64.30               11.57               8.14                 7.44          8.55

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YeR = pro-Kremlin United Russia party

KPRF = Communist Party of the Russian Federation

LDPR = populist/nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia

SR = social democratic Just Russia party

Sources: All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) pre-election and exit polls – http://www.levada.ru/28-11-2011/sotsiologi-otdayut-edinoi-rossii-nemnogim-bolshe-50-golosov; http://regnum.ru/news/1475239.html; http://www.levada.ru/03-12-2007/vybory-2007-ofitsialnyi-prognoz; and “Rezultaty Vyborov v Gosdumu Rossii: Dannyie Ekzitpola VTsIOM,” VTsIOM – Press-vypusk No. 826, 2 December 2007, http://wciom.ru/index.php?id=459&uid=9300.  Russia’s Central Election Commission’s official Duma election final 2007 and preliminary 2011 results – http://www.vybory.izbirkom.ru/region/region/izbirkom?action=show&root=1&tvd=100100021960186&vrn=100100021960181&region=0&global=1&sub_region=0&prver=0&pronetvd=null&vibid=100100021960186&type=242 and http://www.vybory.izbirkom.ru/region/region/izbirkom?action=show&root=1&tvd=100100028713304&vrn=100100028713299&region=0&global=1&sub_region=0&prver=0&pronetvd=null&vibid=100100028713304&type=233.

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The table shows that in the 2007 vote the YeR received more than 3 percent more in the official results than in the exit polls, while the other main parties received the same or slightly less.  Taking into account the margin of error in exit polls, fraudulent vote counting in favor of the YeR could have been either non-existent or padded its take by as much as 5-7 percent.  Comparing the 2007 pre-election opinion polling and election results, we find no significant difference between pre-election polls and voting results; the difference fell well within the range of any reasonable margin of any error – a difference of less than 2 percent.

In 2011 the YeR’s election vote was less than 1 percent higher than its exit poll projection, falling well within the 2 percent margin of error, and it fell far below the YeR’s take in pre-election polling.  If the disparity between election result and exit poll is a reflection of advantage garnered through the use of voting fraud, then there appears to have been little of the latter in 2011.  The YeR, being the party of bureaucrats, would be in best position to have strategically placed members tamper with vote counting.  However, the KPRF and SR both hold fewer gubernatorial, mayoral, and election commission seats, but theyare held in some correspondence with the percentages in the elections results.  To that albeit lesser extent, they would also be in position to tamper with the voting and counting processes. 

The evidence suggests that it is not such vote tampering but rather the uneven pre-election ‘playing field’ created by the use of administrative resources has more to do with YeR’s landslide victories: uneven access to state media, refusal to register certain parties, court restrictions on opposition, police arrests of party newspapers, detentions of activists, government spending to buy off specific groups, and the less familiar national republic collective voting discussed below.  To the extent these methods are used, they may also benefit all parties to one degree or another, depending on the number of high officials – the chief administrative resource – that parties possess.  There is simply no other way to explain the consistency between the opinion and exit polls and the official final voting results.

There was no shortage of reports about voting irreglularities this time around, but they appear to have been fewer and farther between than in 2007 and, to repeat, they cannot have favored just YeR, otherwise the official election results would not correspond to the pre-election and exit polling.  Despite the continuing, albeit reduced improprieties, the fact that the Kremlin chose to swallow the loss of a nearly a quarter of YeR’s electorate rather than cheat on a significant scale in order to make up the gap reflects at least a minimum level of political maturity of the kind that can provide an opening to the opposition.  Certain socio-political structural factors may obviate the need to cheat on a large scale.

The key resource for the Kremlin’s electoral management and manipulation is subtle: the strong habit of collective voting, especially in the North Caucasus, other titular Muslim republics, and a few other national republics.  Over the years these republics have remained a permanent key source of collectivized support for the Kremlin’s presidential candidates and the YeR (see Table below).

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Table. Comparison of 2004 Presidential Election Vote for Vladimir Putin and 2007 and 2011 Duma Votes for United Russia Party (YeR) in the North Caucasus, Other Muslim Republics, and Other National Republics Which Provide the Largest ‘Collective’ Vote (figures in percentages).

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                                                                        YeR Votes      YeR Votes      Votes for Putin

Region                                                            Duma 2011    Duma 2007    Presidential, 2004

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NORTH CAUCASUS

North Caucasus Muslim Republics

Republic of Ingushetiya                                  91.0                       98.7                       98.2

Republic of Kabardino-Balkariya                    81.9                       96.1                       96.5

Republic of Dagestan                                      91.6                       89.5                       94.6

Republic of Chechnya                                     99.5                       99.4                       92.4

Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessiya             89.8                       92.9                       82.3

Other Predominantly Muslim National Republics

Republic of Bashkortostan                              71.2                       83.7                       91.8

Republic of Tatarstan                                      78.6                       81.8                       82.6

Non-Muslim National Republics

Republic of Mordoviya                                   91.6                      93.4                        91.4

Republic of North Ossetiya                             67.9                      71.6                        91.3

Republic of Tyva                                             85.3                      89.2                        87.5

Republic of Kalmykiya                                   66.1                      72.4                        79.2

Republic of Altai                                             53.3                      69.5                        76.6

Republic of Adygeya                                      61.0                      70.1                        76.4

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Sources: http://www.ria.ru/infografika/20111206/508314920.html; www.vybory.izbirkom.ru/region/region/izbirkom?action=show&root=1&tvd=100100021960186&vrn=100100021960181&region=0&global=1&sub_region=0&prver=0&pronetvd=null&vibid=100100021960186&type=233; and Gordon M. Hahn, “Stealth Authoritarianism and Russia’s Second Revolutionary Wave,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Regional Analysis, Vol. 4, Nos. 14-16, 16, 23, and 30 April 2004, http://www.rferl.org.

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Rather than relying on exclusively or even mostly on coercion and fear as do totalitarian or even hard authoritarian regimes, soft authoritarian regimes like Russia’s rely on patrimonial sociopolitical and socioeconomic structures of patronage to consolidate portions of society around the ruling group.  High level patrons provide social, economic and political protection – the notorious Russian krisha or roof – to family, friends, and allied bureaucratic and business clans.  These clients in turn can also be patrons of smaller, lower-level patronage structures.  In the largely ethnic Russian-populated European, northern Siberian and Far Eastern, where YeR, Putin, and Medvedev have garnered fewer votes these structures work fairly well and deliver some collective voting.  University and enterprise directors, bureaucrats and officers with high-ranking patrons make it known to students, employees, lower-level appartchiks, and servicemen for whom they need to vote to keep the positions and support from above coming.  Thus, the YeR’s lower take in December 4th Duma vote as compared with 2007 is the result of some weakening of discipline within these structures due to growing discontent and the defection of some high-ranking patrons and their clans or parts thereof from the ruling group as a result of disagreements sparked by expectations created by Medvedev’s thaw.

In the North Caucasus and elsewhere, there was some weakening of the national republic collective voting discipline, but it retained considerably more strength than in the Russian regions and again produced much higher returns for the Kremlin.  Why does this happen? The reason lies in additional patronage structures that exist in these regions, especially in the titular Muslim republics.  There the leading Islamic clergy, especially the sheikhs of the Sufi tariqats (orders or brotherhoods) predominant in the North Caucasus, provide an additional loyalty pyramid or further cement secular ones shaped by family, friends and business interests.  This makes it easy for patrons in Moscow to buy off large collective voting in favor of candidates and parties backed fully or in part by the Kremlin.  These republics also produce a disproportionate share of the vote tampering that occurs.

Thus, as the Table above shows, the predominantly Muslim-populated North Caucasus republics produce the largest collective vote for the Moscow authorities.  The Volga-Urals area Muslim republics, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, produce the next highest vote for Moscow.  The predominantly non-Muslim national republics provide the next largest collective vote.  Within this third group, three republics – North Ossetiya, Adygeya, and Mordovia – have significant Muslim minorities, and they produce some of the highest pro-Kremlin returns.

This patrimonial national republic collective voting provides the YeR with additional votes beyond what it might normally be able to garner in lieu of these structures.  The above-mentioned republics provide approximately 11 percent or about 7.7 million of the countrywide vote of approximately 68 million who voted in each of the 2007 and 2011 Duma elections.  This year the YeR received approximately 80 percent of those 7.7 million votes – that is, approximately 6.16 million votes.  If one reduces the YeR vote in those regions to the national average of some 40-45 percent the YeR averaged in Russia’s other 67 regions – in other words reduces it by about half – then the YeR loses about 3 million votes, reducing its nationwide take from to approximately 34.5 miilion, 44.5 percent, of the vote nationwide instead of the 49.5 percent registered in the official results.  This means that the inflated part of national republic collective vote provides the YeR with about 8 percent of its votes, 4 percent of the overall votes cast nationwide, and a significant part of the Kremlin’s margins of victory.

Remove the national republic collective vote advantage, other pre-election administrative resource-based advantages, and already more limited vote tampering, and the YeR probably garners some 35 percent of the vote.  This would make it and the Putin-Medvedev tandem vulnerable to losing power.  As it stands, Putin will be hard-pressed to gain 50 percent of the vote in March’s presidential election and avoid a run-off.  Real politics may have returned to Russia.

To be sure, the Kremlin would do well to take steps to put an end to or at least stop encouraging the use of these sociopolitical structural barriers to independent voting.  But this would be risky in the ethno-national republics, especially at a time when those in the North Caucasus are plagued by jihad and the more occasional interethnic and inter-clan violence.

A final point.  It is almost always assumed – especially by those highly focused on criticizing Russia rather than understanding its hybrid complexity of bad and good, authoritarianism and some democracy – that the limits of democracy and the absence of a serious protest vote and movement in Russia is a consequence of Russians’ authoritarian political culture and passive nature.  The subtext is that these are characteristic of ethnic Russians.  But as I have shown, the YeR party took much less of the vote (on average at best 35-40 percent) in regions dominated by ethnic Russians than in those dominated by national minorities. Thus, it appears that if these cultural factors play a role, then they derive more from non-Russians than from Russians. 

To conclude––the misconceptions, oversimplifications, and one-sided view of Russia and Russians being foisted on the American public by much of the U.S. mainstream media and academia serve neither Russia nor the West well and produce little more than misperception, bad policy, U.S.-Russian tensions and even conflict.

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About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California, www.cetisresearch.org; an expert analyst at Corr Analytics, www.canalyt.com; a member of the Executive Advisory Board at the American Institute of Geostrategy (AIGEO) (Los Angeles), www.aigeo.org; and an analyst at Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation (Chicago), www.geostrategicforecasting.com.

Dr. Hahn is the author of the forthcoming book from McFarland Publishers Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the ‘New Cold War. Previously, and three well-received published books: Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction Publishers, 2002);  Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007); and The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media and has served as a consultant and provided expert testimony to the U.S. government.

Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia. He has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Kennan Institute in Washington DC as well as the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.